Friday, February 5, 2010

Courting

Occasionally I like to take a look at how the lawsuits against Bayer Schering Pharma and their birth control pill Yaz are progressing. Today, when I made my usual Google trawl, I came across a piece regarding the enquiries the lawyers have been receiving from women who did not suffer from blood clots or their consequential strokes and heart problems, but experienced the anxiety and depression that I had for a good six months before I realized what was happening.

I had been wondering if the lawsuits would expand to take in the effect Yaz can have on mood, but figured that they might find it too difficult to present and defend. For a start a lawyer is going to have to defend the woman against attacks on her lifestyle, drinking habits, any family history of mental disorders. It would be a difficult fight, considering how there's almost always someone who will have had depression or something that can be labelled as a disorder and how everyone has a bunch of defamatory stories in their past.

The medical evidence for why Yaz causes such extreme changes in emotional state is there, but in order to use that evidence the case would likely have to include the argument that all birth control pills have the capacity to change a woman's mood dramatically and that although Yaz's particular make up does add a whole extra layer to the problem, the problem is still there potentially with all hormonal contraceptives. If Bayer Schering were to counter the case of a woman who has suffered mood changes by saying that all birth control pills have the capacity to do this, then they would be opening up the whole industry to a lot of questions. The woman cited in the piece, Sylvia, claims that Yaz caused her to have panic attacks, constant anxiety and difficulty controlling anger.

Of course she has to temper her complaint with the acknowledgement that her experience is not as 'serious' as a blood clot. This is understandable, but that level of anxiety can lose a person their relationship, their job and put much stress on their general health. The spectre of the Pill's ability to cause blood clots has long blotted out the other side effects. It is the one thing the doctor might have warned you about, and the source of the original concerns in the late 1960s about this newly released drug. When it comes to blood clots doctors and pharmaceutical company representatives can pull out all kinds of graphs to show how rarely they occur, how minimal the risk is and, most importantly, how improved the Pill is since its high estrogen ancestor Enovid. I assume they are having a little more of a struggle with this issue now that Yaz has upped the stakes. Also, I would think there's a possibility of more blood clot cases as more women in the US and Europe can be classed as overweight. But all in all, in comparison to the emotional side effects of the birth control pill, talking about blood clots must seem like a piece of cake.

To start talking about the emotional side effects of the Pill would not only reveal, in a court of law at least, the entrenched misogyny of the medical authorities understanding of women - bringing up all those ideas about how women are so suggestible and how they get depressed because their subconscious knows they can't have a baby when on the Pill or how women are just generally neurotic and hysterical and such is their natural state - but also shed a sharp light on how the pill actually works and the morality of shutting down women's reproductive systems and messing with their hormone cycles for a goal easily and safely met by other means.

The piece goes on to mention a woman who's daughter was put on Yaz and saw her 'entire personality' change. After taking the young woman to psychologists and counsellors she finally considered it might be the birth control pill. The mother says, 'We were told Yaz is the new 'miracle pill' - that it will make you lose weight, regulate your periods, clear up acne, you name it, it will fix it.' Bayer Schering made the mistake of advertising Yaz as a medication to treat anxiety, depression and tension, it marketed it as 'Beyond Birth Control' and as such made itself far more visible than other Pills on the market, far more popular and with much more to justify.

I am very glad that the horrible experiences of many women, including myself, on Yaz have caused this issue to be raised, but I am a little afraid that as Yaz has made itself stand out so far that young women will not think of it as the same as other birth control pills and will therefore not see that all birth control pills can impact badly on mood and well being. The problem with emphasizing the diuretic, potassium-sparing element of Yaz as the cause for the mood changes is that the only answer then given is to swap to another brand of Pill. Also the inevitable, and not completely false, emphasis on the Pill having a different effect on different women, allows the actual facts of the way it works to get brushed aside. All women should be aware that their emotional changes might be down to the Pill, not just those who take Yaz.

Since the blood clot cases came into the newspapers there is all kinds of talk on online forums about stopping Yaz, the withdrawal symptoms and how long these take to go away. Many of the women were completely seduced, as I was, by its skin-clearing, weight loss properties and struggle with the consequences of coming off it - often very painful acne and weight changes brought on by testosterone levels rising. It is worrying, although not surprising to someone who has felt just the same, to see women opting for clear skin and skinniness over emotional balance in their bids to stop taking Yaz. When you've been taught your female body needs medicating, and you can't help but find comfort in the control the Pill gives you over your body, it is hard, even when you feel like you're going crazy - or especially when you feel like you are going crazy - to know what is the best way forward for you.

We are, I think, often too keen to forgo our health. I guess we only think as much of ourselves as we told to, and the Pill is sanctified everywhere there is to look. It is also difficult in the current environment in which it is believed that we all suffer from stress and anxiety as part of modern life to distinguish whilst you are still on the Pill what is a normal reaction to life and what is a side effect. Once you come off the Pill you know for sure that there's a difference, but when you're on it, you constantly question every judgement as a consequence of feeling so detached from your self and the people, the world, around you. It is just as worrying that women get so little support from their doctors, who sadly seem to see the answer in more pills.

The Pill is not the appropriate way to deal with acne or heavy periods, it is not the moral or the compassionate way, but it is also not the appropriate way to approach birth control. It is a crude, primitive and aggressive medication that has absolutely no place in the lives of modern women. The Pill is not a cure-all, but it is also not just a way of preventing pregnancy. In doing that one task, it does a whole lot more to your body that is unhealthy and unwanted.

5 comments:

  1. Hello, I found your blog through bitch. I find it pretty interesting and I agree on most points, though I do take some issue.

    I've been on the pill for about 2 years (Loestrin 24 Fe ) and have had no problem, no depression, no anxiety or really any symptoms (my first month I was probably a little bitchy but that’s about it). I’ve also have friends who have had no problem, and friends who have. A close friend of mine becomes a monster on any type of pill.

    My point is, I agree that taking the Pill to clear your skin or lose weight is ridiculous and to advertise it as a cure all is irresponsible. (however it being neither morally okay nor a compassionate way I have to disagree with you). I also believe it works well for a lot of women and it is generally a safe and effective form of contraceptive. I can’t say I understand your plight with birth control since I’ve had a pretty good experience with it. But I do feel you are being a little too damning on the subject.
    There are a ton of different brands out there, and each will effect women differently just because one pill does not work doesn’t mean the Pill is the worst thing ever and should be condemned and taken off the market.

    So yes, Yaz is awful and Im very sorry to hear about the problems you experienced on Yaz. But that does not mean that the Pill as a whole is not the right way to go for women. Its just like any type of medication, Its going to work differently with each person because no one is built the same, and there are going to be some risk taking it. And if it doesn’t work you can try another kind or buy condoms.

    But thank you for the interesting blog I look forward to reading more.

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  3. I have to say I have never suggested the Pill should be taken off the market. I have said women should have a 'choice' in taking the Pill, which I am uncertain is available to them in the current climate. To have a real choice women need to know how the Pill works, and the implication of this for their bodies. They also need to know about other forms of contraception, and be able to easily get hold of these. The situation as it is now has the Pill forcibly pushed on many women, and increasingly long-acting hormonal contraceptives are the only alternative suggested.

    I would never suggest banning any form of contraception - I believe women are capable of intelligent choices. They do, however, need a supportive environment. I see society as aggressively encouraging of the Pill above other forms of contraception, in a way that is hostile towards female-ness and femininity. The Pill in itself is a rejection of female-ness, and this rejection is attractive to women in this hostile situation. In a similar way to how starving yourself seems like an attractive option to some women.

    All brands of Pill have the same effect in that they suppress your ovulation cycle. Different brands do have different side effects on different women, yes, and it is a shame that there is no research available on why this happens and how it might be predicted, it would save a lot of suffering. We are all 'built' the same as in we have wombs and ovaries and hormonal cycles, which the Pill shuts down. This effects every women in one way or another. Some may just feel less energetic, others may lose hair, others may find they are getting colds more often. Some will have my experience. All I can say is coming off the Pill has been life-changing for me, as it is for many women. Often they don't realize how it has been impacting on their health until they've been off it for a couple of months. Many women find a massive boost in their energy and creativity.

    For some women, such as those with endometriosis or certain types of epilepsy, the Pill is very helpful. For some women who don't have a good experience with their hormonal changes and would rather have these flattened out by the Pill, it also works well.

    The thing is, positive messages about the Pill abound, and the pharmaceutical industry does a brilliant job of promoting this drug. They don't need my help. Everyone knows what's great about the Pill - spontaneous sex, convenience - far fewer know what is not so great about the Pill. I would rather spend my time helping the women who have negative experiences with the Pill understand what's happening, and support them in choosing another method, than act as free advertising for a billion dollar industry.

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  4. The thing that bothers me the most about the way the pill and other hormonal birth control methods are treated is that the advertising would have us believe that most of the risks only affect those of us over 35. Nonsense. I started taking the pill when I was 14. Within a few months, I began having a lot of aching in my lower legs. I was a very active teenager, a ballet dancer, who was in no way unhealthy. I lived with the vague pain for about 4 years, when I opted to change to a diaphragm. Guess what? The leg pain went away as soon as the Pill did. Since then, I have steadfastly refused to use any hormonal birth control.

    Frankly, it angers me that this is the major form of birth control, still. I used the sponge for years, until the on-again, off-again dance with its production made it a non-starter. Funny, how a method that required no hormones, no doctor's visits, and allowed you to leave it in (i.e. be "spontaneous") for up to 24 hours was never pushed as much as the Pill.

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  5. what is your recomendation as an alternative to the pill? i've been looking for non-hormonal anticonceptive methods in the internet, but non of them sounds very convincing: for exemple, copper coils can make your periods heavier and/or more painful... and i don't know anyone who has used the diaphragm. so i'd like to hear someone else's experience.

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